Nearly 40 years has passed since the day an idea born on a cocktail napkin took flight as Southwest Airlines. Founders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King sketched out what would become an innovative way of traveling: to make flying fun, predictably on time with extremely low costs passed on as low fares. To say it worked is an understatement.. Today, Southwest Airlines operates more than 3,200 daily departures using nearly 550 aircraft, carrying more than 100 million Customers a year among 72 cities across the country. We sat down with Chairman, President and CEO of Southwest, Gary Kelly.
- Tell us who has been your greatest inspiration during your nearly 25 years at Southwest from Controller to CEO?
Our People continually inspiring me. Everyday, our Employees bring their very best to work. I always tell them, ‘Our low fares get Customers here but you’re the ones who keep them coming.’ That’s how we’ve been profitable for 38 years.. Our People care about how they serve our Customers, our Communities and each other.
- If corporate culture filters from the top down, how have you been able to keep your Culture strong?
Southwest Culture is not something to learn; it’s something we live and constantly build upon. We hire People who fit our mission of providing exemplary Customer Service. We keep that collective Culture strong by striving to be the best place to work, whether with industry-leading wages and benefits or by the camaraderie of People who view Customer Service as a top priority, whether to each other or to those who do business with Southwest.
- Piggybacking on the previous question, how do you select who works for Southwest? How big a part does attitude play in the hiring of an employee?
Attitude is everything in the competitive selection of a Southwest Employee. We can train skills, but attitude is something our People bring to the table. During the interview process, our very skilled recruiters not only look at resumes and references, they test how candidates tackle problem solving. It’s critical in our Company, because running an airline is so complex. We need to know our Employees can handle stressful situations and approach sometimes difficult decisions with a team member mentality. A good attitude goes a long way.
- What is your favorite part of being the CEO of Southwest?
To run a dynamic airline with the best workforce in the industry. That’s my favorite part of being a CEO. I have the best workforce, the best aircrafts and the most efficient operation in the nation. I’m inspired by the fantastic work our Employees do every day, and I can honestly say that we change history every day here at Southwest.
- The airline initially flew between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The next city to be added was our very own Harlingen. How’s business on the Valley routes?
Our service to the Rio Grande Valley started in 1975, as you said our first expansion market after a rocky yet successful four years. While our original three cities were business-focused, and we knew that the Valley offered a mix of business and leisure travelers. It did then and it does now. Our more than 40 Employes who operate out of Valley International Airport serve our Customers well with nonstop to Houston Hobby, San Antonio and Ausitn and, of course, connecting or additional service to more than 60 destinations across our large network and that, as of March, now includes Greenville/Spartanburg and Charleston in South Carolina and Newark, which is growing our presence in New York City.
Now, interestingly, one of the areas where we intend to grow soon is just South of the river that gives the Valley such a rich heritage. We’re providing new
International Connect service into Mexico with airline partner Volaris. This fairly young carrier is now the second largest in Mexico and has a very similar corporate culture as Southwest. With this service, we enhance offerings to our Customers while exploring new territory for us. Service to Toluca, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, Cancun and Morelia is available through this partnership.
- If you were to look five or even ten years into the future, where do you see Southwest headed?
Growth, growth, and more growth. That’s our plan and our hope. Oil prices, of course, are a huge concern but we’re better prepared for that than most. We see it as our duty to continue providing the freedom to fly to everyone, keeping our fares competitive, while providing a great place to work. The sky is the limit, and we are here to conquer it.